Jason Kander ranks as the undisputed front-runner to become Kansas City’s next mayor. He’s got too much name ID and will soon have too much money.
But the first mayoral forum Wednesday night at the Northland’s Eastgate Middle School demonstrated that the eight other candidates for the office are conceding nothing.
The face-off proved that this is an unusually deep and talented field — a fact that was apparent even though candidates were limited to 60-second answers. Seven of the eight remaining candidates not named Jason Kander all managed to demonstrate a mayoral countenance, and they showed that life after the ever-popular Sly James may continue after all.
Only the well-intentioned Rita Berry, a businesswoman who’s never held public office, appeared out of her depth with an impassioned, but unrealistic, call to sweep all the politics out of City Hall. Good luck with that one.
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Kander is going to be pressed, and pressed hard, to prove that he’s the right guy to follow James. That’s as it should be.
The former state representative who now heads the voting-rights advocacy group Let America Vote appears to be taking nothing for granted. On Wednesday, he mentioned making field trips to both the Northland and the East Side to learn first-hand about issues far from his Brookside home.
He also stressed his commitment to serve all eight years if he’s elected and then re-elected in 2023. Some residents have wondered whether a politician as ambitious as Kander will stick around for the full rodeo.
First debates often resemble preseason football games. Few people are paying close attention. And candidates have an opportunity to shake the kinks out before anybody notices. This one felt different. Even though Wednesday’s scrimmage came a full seven months before the city primary, Kansas City’s media forces were fully represented, and a large crowd turned out.
With all the momentum churning in town, Kansas City clearly is paying attention.
Several broad themes emerged that confirmed this group wants to shift, but not radically alter, priorities from the James years. Taken in total, they represent a commitment to ongoing progress.
The ideas endorsed by most, if not all, of the contenders included:
- a new commitment to East Side development after years of intense focus on all things downtown
- a recognition that simply adding police officers won’t solve the city’s ongoing, and persistently dogged, violent crime problem
- an acknowledgment that tax incentives for new development should be reserved for truly blighted areas
- support for basic services and a renewed focus on neighborhoods, as opposed to more glitz-and-glamour projects
Highlights: Councilman Scott Wagner, the field’s lone north-of-the-river candidate, pointed out that the city’s Northland population is surpassing the number of residents south of the river with profound implications for Kansas City’s future. Phil Glynn said the bidding process to build a new KCI terminal was mishandled, suggesting it lacked clear expectations. Steve Miller called the episode “unfair to everyone.”
Councilman Quinton Lucas called for neighborhood policing. Councilman Scott Taylor cautioned that the city needs to keep an eye on the airport terminal’s climbing costs.
All in all, it was a positive night for the hometown team. Chances look pretty good that there’s a decent mayor in this bunch.